Finding Dorothy

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 15 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

The Wizard of Oz is one of those timeless classics, and I think every young girl has dreamed of being Judy Garland with those magic slippers.  For all those reasons, I was so intrigued with Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts.

In this wonderfully researched novel, we are provided a look into the lives of Frank and Maud Baum, how their lives together formed the classic novel and the inspiration behind some of those memorable characters.  I also particularly enjoyed the sections with interactions set during the movie filming between Mrs. Baum and Judy Garland.  The descriptions of the movie set were so vivid that I could visualize each scene.  

I was not familiar with the backstory of the Baums and found their history very engaging.  It was interesting to learn more about women's suffrage and life in the Dakotas as well.  

This was a four star read for me that I would recommend to historical fiction fans or anyone who grew up on the Wizard of Oz.  I received this book courtesy of Ballantine Books Random House Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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We all know the story of Dorothy following the yellow brick road to find home. We’ve all seen the movie since childhood, and watched as she fights the wicked witch to earn the right to finally go home. (If you haven’t seen the movie – where have you been??). But do you know the story behind the story? Do you know what prompted L. Frank Baum to write about Dorothy and Toto and all her fairytale friends? That is where the historical fiction novel, Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts steps in.

As L. Frank Baum’s widow arrives at MGM to oversee the making of the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz”, we begin to see how important it is to her to make sure the story is done correctly. And she also brings with her the backstory of the writing of this children’s classic. Elizabeth Letts weaves a wonderful story within a story of the life of L. Frank Baum and his wife, Maud, and all their struggles through the early years until his success as a writer. On the movie set, Maud feels protective of the young actress, Judy Garland, who plays Dorothy and watches over her. She also feels protective of the character too, wanting the studio to portray Dorothy exactly as she is in the books. In-between her visits to the set, we see flashbacks of Maud’s youth through her marriage to Baum and beyond. 

I can’t tell you how much I loved this story. It gave depth to character who I’d loved as a child and an adult and gave even more meaning to the story. The author states that she put as much truth in the story as she could find, and you can see the work she’s put into it. It’s an amazing historical fiction novel that I am sure you will enjoy.
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What a wonderful work of historical fiction, taking an author and series I don't know much about and turning it into a wonderful book. Maud Gage is raised in Fayetteville, New York by a very strong willed mother. Matilda Gage was a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony and worked just as hard, if not harder, for women's rights. I found these early chapters so interesting, and how Maud goes off to college only to abandon it all for love. Yet, her mother has to admire the way she stands up for what she believes in. I've not read the Oz books. At first I didn't think the alternating stories--the second during the filming of Wizard of Oz, where Maud befriends Judy Garland as necessary. But I came to really liking the entire package--the bits and pieces of Frank and Maud's background and how they dovetail into what I know of the Oz story from the movie was so intriguing. From their years in pre-statehood South Dakota to the White City of Chicago, al of the settings and parts of their lives were so well done. From the late 1800's to 1939, a lot changed in the world and it was eerie to see how Frank's imagination took root.
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“Just because you can see a rainbow doesn’t mean you know how to get to the other side.” ― Elizabeth Letts, Finding Dorothy

Twenty years after the death of the "original Wizard", Frank Baum, his seventy-seven year-old widow, Maud, headed to Hollywood. It's 1938. MGM is making a movie based on Frank's very popular book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She's ready to step onto the yellow brick to help Dorothy on her journey.

Frank, himself, had seen the potential of bringing Oz to life in film but he feared, without his oversight, the intended message would be lost. Someone must protect Dorothy! Frank turned to the love of his life, Maud Gage Baum, to stand in his stead.

The engaging historical novel parallels narratives alternating between the Maud's time in Hollywood and her life story beginning in Fayetteville, NY when she is ten years-old. Tucked nicely in each narratives are clues to the magic of Frank's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the source of Maud's strength of character and inimitable spirit.

Much like our present day civil rights advocate, Tarana Burke and the Me, Too Movement, Maud was surrounded by strong willed 19th-century women's suffragists. Her mother, Matilda Joslyn Gage and her "Aunt" Susan B. Anthony famous still today. She watched by the sidelines as her mother, a modern day Sisyphus pushed the large rock of gender discrimination up the steep hill toward equality.

Matilda was determined that Maud would get a world class education and was elated when she was accepted as one of the first women at Cornell University. Maud soon found that university life and studies were more her mother's aspirations than her own. When she met her roommate's cousin, Frank Baum, she knew where her destiny lay. She had met her soulmate.

Life was tough in the Baum household. Frank was a fabulous father, a dreamer, an actor, and a playwright. He lived with one foot in the real world and the other in his vivid imagination. A quick wit and a kind heart don't go a long way to support a growing family. Maud was the backbone of the family and stood by her man through thick and thin as they moved from town to town following Frank's latest vision.

Their destinies changed when Frank sat down and drew upon a lifetime of memories and wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The popularity of that first book led to many others and the family finances and security improved greatly.

Back in 1938 Hollywood, Maud knew the secrets of Frank's books and our author has interjected some of them in the novel. Read carefully and you will spot some of them yourself.

It is true that Maud met Judy Garland and was on set during the filming. The author has chosen to expose the ugly underbelly of Hollywood and the tragic impact it had on Judy Garland's personal life. It is doubtful that Maud had as much contact with Judy as the novel describes but it is engaging to think that Maud in some way did try to protect the innocence of a young actress.

“Magic isn't things materializing out of nowhere, Magic is when a lot of people all believe in the same thing at the same time, and somehow we all escape ourselves a little bit and we meet up somewhere, and just for a moment, we taste the sublime”
― Elizabeth Letts, Finding Dorothy

Finding Dorothy draws together Maud's story from all perspectives and makes a fascinating read. Recommended reading. 

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for the advanced reading copy in exchange for my honest opinion and review.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publishing house for providing an advanced copy for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own! 

Once in a blue moon I run across a book that I think I could put in just about anyone's hands and they would love it. The book this year is, FOR SURE, Finding Dorothy. I did musical theatre for years and one of my favorites is The Wizard of Oz. That said, I didn't know a lot about the history of the book it was based upon or the behind-the-scenes events that had happened during the filming of the movie. I think that is why this book was such a treat because of the meticulous research by Letts to create this story.

The book shares the true story of Maud & Frank Baum. Frank wrote the story of Oz, but the journey to success was a long one. His wife, far ahead of her time as a feminist, leaves behind her education to marry this magical man and start a life together. Their life is what shapes the story of Oz and it is incredibly beautiful.

Later in life, Maud learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband’s masterpiece for the screen. Somehow this seventy-seven-year-old firecracker finds a way to make it into the studio for the filming, something she really feels tasked to do. It is of the utmost importance that Frank's story is held in the same spirit that it was written. As Maud hears Judy Garland rehearsing, she recognizes the yearning that was her own yearnings as a girl. This yearning is why Maud decides she must protect Dorothy at all costs, just like she did so many years ago.

I can assure you that this book will be in my top ten of 2019. It is magical and is recommended, in particular, for fans of The Greatest Showman. I couldn't put it down and now see the story of Oz in such a different way than I did before.
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Do you believe in magic? I think you just might after reading this book. The story The Wizard of Oz is a mystical childhood story that takes us on a journey only our imaginations could understand. Reading the story behind the story is equally as enchanting and magical. Elizabeth Letts writes a beautiful story that pulls you in and takes you on that mystical journey just the way The Wizard of Oz does. She artfully mixes fact and fiction to bring Dorothy completely to life. I really enjoyed the alternating time frames between past and present when the movie was being produced. When Frank wrote the book, he told Maud it was all in there, every last bit. Going back and forth between the time frames allows the reader to understand what all of that was and why Maud is so fiercely protective of Dorothy.

The author's extensive research and her passion for this well loved story shines through in this book. If you loved The Wizard of Oz then you will love this book. If you are ready to go on a nostalgic journey through childhood then you will love this book. It's magical, charming, enchanting, fascinating, mystical, original, adventurous, emotional, nostalgic, comforting and just a flat out well written book you will want to get your hands on!!!!! This is not my first Elizabeth Letts book and I cannot recommend her books enough. She knocks them all out of the park. Five well deserved stars!!!!!

My thanks to Elizabeth Letts, Random House/Ballantine Books and Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Finding Dorothy was not only a joy to read, it was fascinating to learn that the famed book and movie, The Wizard of Oz, was based on the author’s real life and family. L. Frank Baum’s wife, Maud, was a character to be reckoned with. She was a feminist before her time with a creative spirit and fierce determination to see things through.

The author transported the reader through Maud’s entire life. From her childhood, to being one of a handful of women to attend college, to marrying for love, having children, becoming a widow and finally helping Judy Garland on the set. The settings in both Fayetteville, NY and Aberdeen, South Dakota were brought to life with great detail. Truly, this author has the ability to carry you right into these towns.

Some of the tidbits about the movie’s filming were surprising, alarming, as well as entirely misogynistic. The pills forced on Judy to keep her skinny was just one of the distressing moments on the set. Maud’s motherly affection towards Judy, her ‘get the job done right’ attitude and her love for her late husband were all qualities to admire in a woman, no matter what the time period.

Currently, we live in a time of accessibility and immediacy, which was a far cry from anything in Maud’s life. But Frank, he dreamed of the future and how anything is possible. They were a perfect match. This book would be a good discussion book; however, I do believe its appeal aims mostly to Wizard of Oz fans. I wish it was a good fifty pages shorter as I was slowly losing interest by the end. The author’s note answers all the questions about the true historical aspects versus the fictional imaginings in the book.
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Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is an enjoyable novel—especially if you are a fan of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum or the famous movie The Wizard of Oz.  But it is a novel—remember that as you read it.  One can tell that the author did a lot of research into the known historical facts about her novel’s characters which are based on real people and on the settings, but then she had to imagine and conjecture which is why historical novels ARE NOT nonfiction.  Some of the author’s conjecture seems plausible, and some does not, but the book is entertaining nonetheless.

In the Afterword at the end of the book, here is the author’s narrative about what inspired her to write the book:

“My own story about Dorothy began in 1965 when I was four years old, living in a suburb of Houston with my family. The owners of a local television store opened up after hours and invited the neighborhood folk to come watch the annual network screening of The Wizard of Oz on one of their brand-new color TVs. Like so many other people, I’ve never forgotten the first time I saw this legendary film. And as did so many others, I felt that the character of Dorothy belonged just to me. In the 1960s, sandwiched between two brothers, I knew that girls were not equal to boys—we couldn’t wear pants to school or play on sports teams. I figured out instinctively that Dorothy was the kind of little girl I wanted to be—one who could stare down a lion, melt a witch, tame a wizard. From that day forward, Dorothy became my imaginary friend. 

About six or seven years ago, I was reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz aloud to my son when I found myself wondering about the author. Why was I so familiar with his creations yet knew nothing about the man who had created them? And then when I read about him, I suddenly felt as if I understood why this man, in particular, had created one of American literature’s most spunky and enduring female characters. 

Baum’s wife, Maud Gage Baum, was a tour de force, completely unlike most Victorian women. Not surprising: Maud was the daughter of one of the nineteenth century’s most outspoken advocates for the rights of women. In 1876, Maud’s mother, Matilda Joslyn Gage, helped to pen a Declaration of the Rights of Women, then marched, uninvited, onto the dais of America’s centennial celebration to hand the document to a startled Senator John Ferry, then acting vice president, with her close friends Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at her side. Matilda fought for women’s access to higher education, helping to ensure her daughter Maud’s place as one of Cornell University’s first female undergraduates. And yet Maud chose to defy her formidable mother by running away with an itinerant theater man named L. Frank Baum, demonstrating the very independence of spirit that her mother had taught her. Maud never regretted her decision. Theirs was a great love. Frank and Maud remained devoted partners throughout the rest of their lives. 

But it was not until I stumbled across a 1939 photograph of Judy Garland and Maud Baum seated next to each other, reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, that I realized I had found a story to tell. Maud Gage was born in 1861, shortly before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, sparking the Civil War. When I learned that Maud, aged seventy-eight, had met Judy Garland, aged sixteen, on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939, I needed to know more. How had this meeting ever come to pass? What might they have talked about?”

The book’s plot follows two storylines.  One traces the courtship, marriage and adult life of Maud Baum, and the other transpires on the set of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, in 1939 in which Maud tries to make sure that the movie is true to her husband’s book, but also tries to protect a young, vulnerable Judy Garland.

Thank you Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy of the book and for allowing me to review it.
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Nostalgia reigns supreme in this book.  For all of us who grew up loving and watching "The Wizard of Oz" year after year, this book delivers.  It's interesting to see how the making of the movie, through the eyes of Maud, the author's wife, explained the intricacies of the plot and characters.
As in any book deemed historical fiction, the reader must remember that some literary license has been used.
It's a sweet read that makes you want to see the movie again and again.
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This is a beautiful story about Maude, the wife of the creator of the well known book, "The Wizard of Oz". This is her story both beautifully researched and also with  a bit of fantasy this novel is great for any Wizard of Oz fans. I loved it. 

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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If you love Wizard of OZ, this is the book for you.  The intertwining of Maud's story with the movie brings things to a whole new level.  I will definitely be recommending this book to our woman's book club!
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Over the Rainbow and into Emerald City I was hooked with the first sentence. Being a BIG fan of The Wizard of Oz Elizabeth Letts took me to another place while reading Finding Dorothy. Just as the story Wicked did for me, FINDING DOROTHY gave me so much joy and a different perspective on the classic book. Lets face it we all know the movie so well, Elizabeth gives you the background behind the scenes at MGM. She gave us a glimpse of how it might have felt being on the lot and set with the actors that would live on as legends. I picked this book for my book club this month and I can not wait to hear what my loyal and lively group has to say. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.....there's no place better then between the pages of a good book. I could have stayed in Oz land a lot longer. Loved it. 4  stars
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First line: It was a city within a city, a textile mill to weave the gossamer of fantasy on looping looms of celluloid.

Summary: Maud Gage Baum, the widow of the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, visits the set of the filming of The Wizard of Oz where she meets the young star, Judy Garland. Maud immediately feels a connection and need to protect the sixteen year old actress who will be portraying Dorothy. Told through flashbacks we see Maud’s life with husband, L. Frank Baum as they start out touring the country with a theater group to owning their own dry goods store to becoming a literary success. 

Highlights: This was a fun jaunt through the history of one of the greatest movies/books of all time. I remember watching the movies numerous times as a child before I ever picked up one of the books. It is so much different but each are wonderful in their own ways. Nothing beats Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’. 
I know that the author took some liberties with the history to help suit the timeline and layout of her novel but the background of this iconic story is fascinating. Such a successful man (or so I would have assumed) struggled so much trying to find his place in the world. He tried multiple different careers before he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Even though his story is entertaining, his wife was the strong one. 
Maud Gage Baum was the daughter of famous suffragette, Matilda Joslyn Gage. She was a strong advocate for women’s right to vote, fighting alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Maud learned from her to be bold and speak her mind. As I read I could tell that having such a strong mother helped Maud navigate her life with an eccentric husband and battling the studio to do justice to his novel. 
I loved every interaction that Maud had with Judy Garland. It is hard to imagine that Judy was only sixteen when she was cast in the role that sky rocketed her career. The poor girl had to deal with unbelievable things while preparing for this role including smoking 80 cigarettes a day and taking diet pills to keep her trim. It is outrageous. Maud tries to help Judy as much as possible in order to keep her promise to Frank to watch over “Dorothy”. This is the most heartwarming part of the novel, watching Maud make sure that Judy is Dorothy and Dorothy is Judy, and fighting for her.

Lowlights: There were several historical inaccuracies that are easily overlooked but at times also drove me a little crazy. One of Maud’s sisters was completely left out of the story. And the idea behind the character, Dorothy, was changed. However, the story does not suffer for any of this. Letts does a great job of weaving a fun and intricate story filled with all the magic of Oz.

FYI: Pick up the Oz books! Watch the movie!
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I struggled to stay interested in this book. I definitely preferred the story line of young Maud over the filming of the movie. There were some moments that had me hooked but then we changed time periods and I lost interest. I usually enjoy books that jump back and forth between time as they provide a fuller storyline. I just really struggled to care.
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Maud is a university student who is pursuing a degree. One day, she drops out of college to marry a struggling actor named Frank L. Baum. The couple experiences many hard times. However, Frank is very optimistic and believes in the world of imagination. He penns The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which becomes a bestseller. Decades later, MGM Studios is making a movie based on the book. Maud believes that she should Judy Garland, the actress who play Dorothy, and help her to become a star.

  The novel has two storylines. The first storyline tells the story of Maud’s courtship and marriage to Frank L. Baum, and how their experiences led to the inspiration of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The other storyline focuses on how Maud help Judy with her personal struggles on the movie set. Honestly, I found the second storyline to be more intriguing than the first because I loved how it focused on the making of the movie and the problems Judy faced while playing Dorothy.

     I liked Maud’s character better in her later years rather than her early years. In her early years, Maud was a very frustrating character. She is practical. However, unlike her passionate suffragette mother, she does not seem to have any interest in women’s rights. She also demeans and patronizes her husband for having an imagination. She doesn't even support her husband during the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and believes he will fail. 

     In Maud’s later years, she is completely different woman. She is proud of how far women have progressed She is proud that her mother was a suffragette. Most of all, she is portrayed as a supportive wife, who shares her husband’s craving of the imagination. She is proud of her husband for having published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Because of these stark contrasts of the same character, I wonder what had changed Maud’s believe in her husband. Is it because it was a bestseller? Would she still have been supportive of her husband had the book failed or would she have reprimanded him for publishing the book? Thus, I did not fully believe in Maud’s transformation.

   Overall,  this novel is about hardships, determination, and love. While I did not think Maud was a fully developed character, I like how well-rounded the other characters are. Frank never gave up in his dreams, even though everyone was telling him to quit. Judy was a young talented actress but she had many personal hardships on set to overcome. The writing was strong but suffered from too much telling rather than showing. Still, ths novel kept me captivated because it featured my favorite star Judy Garland from Old Hollywood and my favorite childhood movie, The Wizard of Oz. I recommend Finding Dorothy for fans of The Paris Wife, Call Me Zelda, and Becoming Mrs. Lewis.
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Loved this book!  Beautifully written, wonderful characters, I just loved it.  The character development was very well done.
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It's an interesting story about the history leading up to the book and subsequent movie, The Wizard of Oz. Filled with a lot of interesting facts about the Baum family, it tells about the challenges, failures and triumphs, many against outstanding odds. Even though it was enjoyable and I learned a lot about what influenced the famous story, it just wasn't very captivating for me. It was somewhat flat and boring in spots so I probably wouldn't personally recommend it.
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Elizabeth Letts pulls back the curtain in "Finding Dorothy," a fictionalized, yet based on fact, story of Maud Baum, the woman behind Frank Baum and "The Wizard of Oz." The author has definitely done her research to give readers an appreciation of the strong woman who stood behind, and often pushed, her husband to embrace his literacy genius and create a classic for all ages.

The story begins with Maud pushing her way onto the set of the filming of "The Wizard of Oz," and a chance meeting with a young Judy Garland. Knowing what she did about the novel's origins, Maud didn't think Judy was right for the role. - at first. But in Judy, Maud saw much of the Dorothy character's struggles in a time not yet ready to acknowledge women, their rights and their role in the world.

Maud knew first-hand how hard it was to be recognized in a man's world. She grew up with a suffragette as a mother and was taught to have a voice, a loud voice, even if few were listening. When she married Frank, an actor, she learned about hard times, financial struggles, failing health - all manners of things that could have crippled her soul. Yet, in Letts' novel, Maud stands strong, giving her husband time and support to let his imagination run wild.. 

"Finding Dorothy" is a must-read for Frank Baum fans who fell in love with his magical world. As readers learn more about his life, they'll come to love Maud - as a devoted wife, mother and woman who fought her own battles to stand up for others.
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Letts provides new insights into the filming of The Wizard of Oz through the eyes of Maud Baum. Through careful and extensive research, Letts successfully portrays the life of Maud and Frank and how their life experiences led to writing The Wizard of Oz. Along the way, the reader is given insight into depression era life and the suffragette movement in the late nineteenth century. Maud is truly remarkable as she finds her way as an individual separate from her famous mother and the wife of Frank. 
Recounting Maud's life with her husband and her dedication to his memory as she sought to make sure that the film maintained the spirit of Frank provided compelling reading. Maud's personality and character comes through in her interactions with the director, producer, song writers, and Judy Garland, who she tried to mentor and protect throughout the filming.
For those who love literature and the story behind the story, this book will be compelling. The book is well-researched and well-written. The characters are developed and the time and culture of various periods in Maud's history is very descriptive. I would recommend this book to all who just love a good story. And for those who really want to know the inspiration for Dorothy.
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I still remember the first time I saw The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on TV...many, many years ago.  I've watched it many times since and it never fails to entertain.  Lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my, can still start a conversation on what you loved most about the movie.  Elizabeth Letts builds on those memories and feelings by giving us the story behind the curtain. 
The author of OZ never saw the movie.  His wife is the steward of his books insuring the story comes alive as he saw it.  This book is so good I'm not sure how to describe how Ms Letts brings the reader into the story and shows them the "movie" of Baum's life and how she remembers the journey to Oz.  It's a wonderfully researched and written, bringing the characters front and center while the readers readily feel as if they are in the story along side.  I'm so glad I read this book.  I've recommended it to everyone in my reading family.
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